This site is a blog about what has been coasting through my consciousness lately. The things I post will be reflections that I see of the world around me. You may not agree with me or like what I say. In either case – you’ll get over it and I can live with it if it makes you unhappy. Please feel free to leave comments if you wish . All postings are: copyright 2014 – 2021
Ever since I retired I no longer have to get up early to get to the office and solve the problems of the world. I can sleep in and start my day whenever I darn well please.
Well, that’s the theory anyway.
The reality is considerably different. I know that I’m retired. My coffee maker knows that I’m retired. The world knows that I’m retired.
My body does not know I’m retired. Or at least it is pretending to not know.
No matter what time I crawl into bed my internal alarm clock pries open my eyes at about 5 AM. Try as I might to roll over and sleep until later it just doesn’t work. Once my eyes pop open at 5 AM I am up.
There is not a lot for me to do at 5 AM. No stores are open – not even Starbucks. The sun isn’t even up yet. So, I end up watching TV while I’m getting dressed. And there is not much of a selection at that hour even with 200 channels. That means that while I am struggling to figure out how socks work I am tuning into “The Cowboy Channel.”
At 5 AM I am treated to ancient reruns of “The Roy Rogers Show – Starring Roy Rogers, King of the Cowboys!” It’s his show so he gets top billing. Second billing goes to his horse, Trigger. After the horse comes Roy’s wife “Dale Evans – Queen of the West.” She may be the Queen, but Roy’s horse gets better placement in the credits. She must not have had a very good agent that she lost out to a horse for all those years.
Poor Dale lost out on another thing too. Roy (Real name: Leonard) had his horse named “Trigger” and a dog called “Bullet” – all rough and tough. Real macho for the “King of the Cowboys” even though dressed like a member of the Village People. Dale on the other hand, even though she is a Queen, has to ride around on a horse named “Buttermilk.”
“Buttermilk?” What kind of a name is that for a horse? I’ll bet that if she had had a dog it would have been called “Cottage Cheese” or something equally non-threatening.
That whole show was a collection of weird stuff and anachronisms. On one hand it was your classic western shoot-em-up with posses and outlaws. Their town (Mineral City) had wooden sidewalks and hitching posts. Everyone wore gunbelts and rode horses – except for one guy who drove around town in a Post-World War Two Jeep. I never could figure out that bit of business. In the confusing Old West setting of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans where did their “Comedic Sidekick”, Pat Brady, get his gasoline? His Jeep always seemed to be possessed by evil automotive demons, driving off on its own.
Was it a Cowboy show or was it a Sci-Fi Western? Nothing made sense to me. I’ve been watching that show for years, since I was a kid, and I always found it to be one of the most confusing things on television. Even the Three Stooges made more sense to me. I’m hoping that there is a lost episode that might show up one morning where we might get to see Buttermilk kick Trigger’s Palomino butt.
L to R – Dale Evans, Trigger, Roy Rogers
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OVER THE YEARS I HAVE SEEN A LOT OF COMEDIANS. Most of them ranged from dismal to really good. There was a different level for those above “Really Good.” Those were the “Classics,” the “Geniuses, “and the “Made me laugh out loud.” There aren’t too many that made it into that last group. One who did make me laugh out loud every time was a Comedian I’ll bet you never heard of. If you are under 40 years of age I’d put money on it.
The person I’m talking about was a Spanish ventriloquist named Wenceslao Moreno. He performed under the stage name of Señor Wences.
I DO IT BECAUSE I LIKE IT. I do it because most other people like it. I do it because it is fun.
I do it because I can.
I confuse people.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away I used to be part of an Improvisational Comedy group in San Francisco. The eight of us (AKA the “Improv Alternative” and later as “Anchovi Daiquiri”) worked in nightclubs, theaters, street fairs, and any place that would let us through the door. We would do a two hour show made up entirely from audience suggestions.
This morning (a few days before Valentine’s Day) I was stumbling into St. Arbucks for a transfusion with a little Half-n-Half when I saw a poster advertising a weekend concert. Whoever put it up was careless and posted it sideways on the bulletin board. The concert featured a singer doing a Frank Sinatra Tribute Show.
That singer is a performer whose Show Business career is firmly rooted in “The Law of Diminishing Returns.”
I HAVE BEEN SURVEYING THE WORLD OF PERFORMANCE ART.
It’s not hard to do –just look in your local newspaper for listings under “Live Entertainment and whenever you see something that boasts only one person doing the show, you’ve found it. But beware and tread carefully.
Most of the “Performance Art” solo performers that I’ve met over the years have been solo because nobody else in their right mind would get on a stage with them. Would YOU want to share the stage with a guy smearing ice cream all over his body? Not unless you brought the chocolate syrup and a spoon. But that would also call for a very low passable sense of culinary hygiene.
IS THIS THE FUTURE? ARE THESE THE THOMAS EDISONS OF TOMORROW?
I was flipping through the 237,812 channels on our TV the other day. There I found much to be ignored. I suppose that someone, somewhere, on some combination of medications might find some of these channels entertaining or informative. Me? I really have my doubts that “Ancient Aliens” built everything from the Pyramids of Giza up to and including the Astrodome.
But I did find one program that was both fascinating and appalling at the same time (Other than the Evening News). It was something called “Battlebots” or “Robot Wars,” or something like that.
Throwback Thursday from September 2015 –”Downwind Of Upstage Is No Place To Be”
THERE IS A GOOD REASON my wife, the lovely and unfailingly perceptive, Dawn, calls my trips to St. Arbucks, along with, “The Usual Suspects,” my “Play Group.” I admit that there are some days when the maturity level drops below Pre-School closing in on Pre-Natal.
For several days now the main topic of conversation among the group has centered on the television western series, “Gunsmoke.” This show hasn’t been on the air since 1975. Why this has become important enough to warrant two days of conversation is unknown.
I understand the lure of nostalgia – the being able to share common memories with contemporaries who are now getting along in years. What I can’t understand is why it has become necessary to dramatize scenes from the show – right there in the corner of the coffee joint. It mystifies me and I think it scares some of the staff and other customers.
The conversation seemed to center around one character on the show: “Chester Good” – portrayed by Dennis Weaver, a mediocre actor at best.
“Chester” was the Deputy to Marshall Matt Dillon, played by James Arness and irrelevant to this discussion.
The character of “Chester” was disabled on the show. His character was gunned down in an early episode and for the rest of his time on the show he ran around with one leg, unbending, and stiff as a pool cue.
Week after week he would scuttle around, getting in over his head with the local bad guys. He would then run, after a fashion – stiff leg swinging out like the line on a weed eater, and yelling, “Mr. Dillon, Mr. Dillon, come quick.” Not exactly a showcase for Mr. Weaver’s acting chops, but it paid the bills.
How all of this was remembered by The Usual Suspects in 2015 is where things got dicey.
After describing “Chester” and his “mobility issues” it was determined by one Suspect that more was needed to illustrate his point (Whatever it was). He also thought that it would help if he performed Chester’s lines, but his recollection veered a bit from reality.
The Suspect hauled himself out of his chair and began to stiff-leg it across the floor. Then his dialogue came out, loud enough to reach the back row at the Hollywood Bowl.
“Holy Sh**, Mr. Dillon. Come quick. Holy Sh**!
It was at this point that I tried to hide under a table. I’m positive that “Chester” never said that on network television – ever.
This breach of nostalgia etiquette had the other Suspects trying to force him back in his chair.
“Sit down! You’re going to get us all thrown out of here!”
I peeked around and all of the baristas and other coffee drinkers looked like prairie dogs – alert with eyes wide open, wondering what was happening. Was the big guy with the bad leg going Postal? Was he a threat or merely nuts?
The answer to that particular question was: All of the above. But I’m not being judgmental.
Now, all of this could be written off as a quirky, one-time event, like Ross Perot or World War Two, except that there was an encore performance the next day.
When I arrived on the scene this “Faux Chester” was already wound up like a Joy Buzzer and moments later he was off and running, albeit with a significant limp. I was still near the door, so I just sidled over toward the recycling bin and pretended to be checking that things were being sorted properly.
If this was going to be a daily performance, I told him, he was going to have to join the Actors’ Equity labor union. It was either that or he was going to be hauled off for a 72 hour observation at the Bubble Factory. Personally, I’m voting for the 72 hour gig.
Most days at St. Arbucks are quiet, contemplative even, but this week it was more like being trapped inside bad Community Theater.
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Throwback Thursday from July 2015 – “But Wait! There’s More
But Wait! There’s More!
I WAS SITTING AT THE KITCHEN TABLE the other morning, minding my own business and eating some grapes, when I turned on the TV and came in halfway through an Infomercial.
The format is always the same – one guy and one gal acting as if their conversation is completely ad libbed. Sure it is. These mini-dramas are scripted out by a team of advertising copy writers who try so hard to be creative. They fail every time. Most of the time these actors sound like they are just coming out from under heavy anesthesia.
I immediately recognized the guy part of the infomercial pair. That is his picture up top. I’m sure he came to Hollywood with the dream of being the next Spencer Tracy or Vin Diesel. Instead he has landed the plum role of “The Guy” in about 47 different infomercials over the years.
So much for Art.
In most of his infomercial gigs he portrays a guy who is mildly stupid and needs to be enlightened by “The Gal” about the earthshaking benefits of whatever trashy product they are selling. I can’t believe he is really that dense. If he was that thick between the ears he would never have survived so long. He would have been distracted by a shiny object and wandered out into traffic or died horribly in his own apartment because he ignored the warning to, “Don’t try this at home!”
He must be a better actor than I’m giving him credit for – or he has an off-screen helper who keeps him fed and away from potentially dangerous home appliances. I’m not sure.
My point being –
This poorly acted and written infomercial that I chanced to bump into while eating grapes, on July 16, 2015, was showcasing the ease, importance and beauty of Outdoor Christmas Lighting so I could turn our home from simply being a boring “baby poop yellow” into a neighborhood shocking light show that would scare the neighbor’s dogs and probably be visible from space.
This infomercial went a bit farther than most by having “unpaid testimonials from satisfied customers.”
They showed the exterior of a house that looked as if it was being invaded by Smallpox pustules that could crawl around over your siding at will. It was spooky.
When they interviewed a woman who claimed to be the home owner she seemed not only overjoyed, but seriously overdosed. Lord knows what she was seeing. She sang the praises of the lighting gizmo that did this to her house, exclaiming how much she enjoyed having strangers come down her street and drive slowly past her home. In most neighborhoods that kind of activity would generate phone calls to the Police.
To me it all looked like a prelude to a drive-by shooting.
OK, so this was just another infomercial for yet another product that I neither want, need or would take as a gift. I didn’t stop eating my grapes and I didn’t dial the toll free number at the bottom of my screen.
But wait! There’s more!
As I sat there watching this thing, that only needed Tap Dancing Zombies to make it worse, the one and only pertinent fact finally wormed its way to the surface of my consciousness:
It was July 16th for cryin’ out loud!
Why were these Morons of Marketing running this infomercial in the middle of Summer? It is 86 degrees outside, I’m wearing a Hawaiian Shirt and the dog next door is trying not to die from heat prostration.
Who in their right mind would be buying Christmas lights on July 16th?
Maybe the actor playing “The Guy?” He seems to be downright enthusiastic about the whole idea of turning his home into an eyesore. But, then again, he is getting paid to do this gig.
Now, this may seem callous, but here goes.
I hope that this actor’s parents are deceased. I say that because I hate to think that they would be watching this infomercial and have to endure the anguish of realizing that they paid a bloody fortune to send their boy to the Yale Drama School for four years and this infomercial is, very likely, the peak of his career. If they weren’t already deceased, seeing this infomercial might be enough to warrant the removal of any sharp objects from their home.
Their home – the one WITHOUT the friggin’ ugly Christmas lights infecting the neighborhood.
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WE HAD THE OSCARS ON THE TV A FEW WEEKS AGO. I didn’t say that we actually watched it, just that we had it on the Tube. Of all the films nominated for an award I think we had seen…One. And I didn’t care for it all that much.
It is Springtime and we are hard into the Award Shows Season as well. Various Organizations and Industries are stumbling over themselves to put on a show of overwhelming Self-Congratulations. Heavy-Duty exercises are being done to facilitate better the patting of one’s own back.
WHO KNOWS WHAT TOMORROW BRINGS? Not me, that’s for sure. Given the state of the world today there are few things that can be regarded as certain. Not many, but there are a few. I bumped into one of those sure things last night.
My wife, the lovely and cinematically tasteful, Dawn, and I are big fans of the Movies. Dawn’s taste is better and covers a wider spectrum than mine so she roots around and uncovers some real gems. Last night she found a truffle of a film that is going to be on our short list of “Movies to be seen ASAP.”
‘ You broke my heart ’cause I couldn’t dance
You didn’t even want me around
And now I’m back to let you know
I can really shake ’em down!’ (Berry Gordy)
Roma uno die non est condita.
Rome wasn’t built in a day.
It takes time to found a mighty Empire that will conquer all the known world.
So, from the founding of Rome (let’s say 753BC) to the final defeat of Carthage it was all of 600 years.
It is therefore somewhat remarkable it took Berry Gordy less than a decade from the founding of Motown in 1959 to establish an Empire that colonised the hearts and souls of music fans from Addis Abbaba to Zanzibar and Zagreb!
An $800 loan from his family became a multi, multi million dollar record company which would record songs that will last as long as we have Spirits that need lifting, hearts that need stirring (or consolation) and hips that just gotta move.
First, get yourself a base that you own.
Let’s show our ambition and call this base, ‘Hitsville USA’.
A Studio come Clubhouse where your singers and musicians can find competition and camaraderie 24 hours a day (acording to legend the local beat cop thought 2648 West Grand Drive Boulevard must be an all hours drinking den given the numbers of shady looking characters turning up at all hours of the day and night).
Next get yourself a live and play in the Basement group of musicians with Jazz chops who can fashion a wholly new sound – which is not jazz, not old school R&B, Blues or Rock n’ Roll.
Let’s call them The Funk Brothers and let’s have one of them, James Jamerson on Bass, be a fully fledged genius who will add grace and depth to every recording he ever plays on.
Let’s have a slogan calling that sound, ‘The Sound of Young America’ and let’s make so many great records that the slogan will became an every day reality on the airwaves and the charts.
And, we don’t mean, in still highly segregated America, the Black Music Charts .
No, no, no.
We mean the Pop Music charts.
Where the real money is to be made.
Open for Business and cast a cool appraising eye on all the would be stars who beat a path to your door.
This kid Smokey Robinson’s a Keeper – he’s got a notebook with hundreds of songs and he can sing ’em like a bird and work the Recording Desk too!
Not that I can’t write and produce myself.
You ever heard, ‘Reet Petite’ or, ‘Lonely Teardrops’?
Big Hits but Berry didn’t get the money!
Not going to happen again!
So, in 1960, New Frontier!, we get our first hit.
Barrett Strong with, ‘Money’ (bunch of English guys in Hamburg called The Beatles will learn a lot playing that one!).
Then Smokey comes up with, ‘Shop Around’ and by the end of the year we got a Million Seller!
Here comes 1961 and we get ourselves our first Pop Number One!
The Marvellettes, ‘Please Mr Postman’.
I got my eyes and ears on that Brian Holland – there’s a lot more hits where that came from!
Early ’62 I figure we need to find a song like, ‘Twist and Shout’ that will have all the White Kids, all the Black Kids and everybody who ain’t tied to a chair out on the floor and running down to the record store to lay down their cash.
Let’s call it, ‘Do You Love Me’.
I thought it might suit The Temptations but maybe they just sing too well for this one (I got big plans for them later).
Probably the best dancers of anyone who ever came through these doors!
Come to think of it Billy Gordon got a, ‘Wake the Dead and get ’em up Dancin” Voice if I ever heard one!
Next time they come through I’m gonna sit down at the piano and teach them the song one evening and record it the next day.
Gonna tell James to drive this one like a runaway train.
None of his fancy jazz licks – nail that backbeat to the Basement floor!
Of course, when Benny Benjamin is behind the Drums, the record is going to sound immense.
Maybe I’ll start with a spoken intro and then let The Funk Brothers explode and tell Billy I don’t want him to be able to sing this song a second time ’cause I want him to tear his throats to shreds the first time!
Ok – let’s go!
Now, if that ain’t shaking ’em down I don’t know what is!
The Funk Brothers never let up and Billy Gordon’s lead vocal comes at you like a tidal wave.
Hubert Johnson, Billy Higgs, Joe Billingslea and Sylvester Potts make up a chorus that has an irresitble goofball charm. The trilling guitar comes from Huey Davis.
When I’ve managed to master some skill which has previously eluded me (and there’s a lot of them!) I just can’t stop myself singing, ‘I’ m back and I can really shake ’em down – Watch me now!’.
I love the corny spoken introduction, the false ending, the references to the Mashed Potato and The Twist and the bullfrog, ‘Um, Bom, Bom, Bom, brrrmm’ backing vocals.
Of course Berry got his hit!
Top 5 in every Chart and well over a Million copies sold.
They say it was the fastest selling single in the history of Motown.
Malheureusement, it was the pinnacle of The Contours career though they did make a handful of other excellent recordings.
They were simply too low down in the pecking order of Motown Vocal Groups.
And, when you consider they were up against the likes of The Four Tops and The Tempatations that is hardly to be wondered at.
There’s almost always been a version of the group out there driving a crowd crazy with, ‘Do You Love Me’.
And, by some mysterious alignment of the heavens, in 1987 the song gained a wholly unexpected new lease of life through being featured in the world wide hit film. ‘Dirty Dancing’ (even if they did, disgracefully, chop off the ending!).
One of the versions of The Contours got to go on a world tour and enjoy the big time once again.
Not so, for poor Billy Gordon.
For Billy died in poverty after spending time in prison (bizarrely with one time colleague Joe Billingslea being a Corrections Officer in the Prison!).
So it goes. So it goes.
Yet, every day someone, somewhere, has their life lit up by hearing Billy intone:
‘You broke my heart ’cause I couldn’t dance
You didn’t even want me around
And now I’m back to let you know
I can really shake ’em down!‘
And then, if they’ve got any blood in their veins they’ll go stone crazy for the next two and a half minutes.
Watch me Now!
Dedicated to :
Billy Gordon (RIP)
Sylvester Potts (RIP)
Hubert Johnson (RIP)
Huey Davis (RIP)
James Jamerson (RIP)
Benny Benjamin (RIP)
Britain’s Ace Records has two excellent complications documenting The Contours recorded legacy.
ELVIS HAS LEFT THE FOOD CHAIN! I have to admit that was the nastiest and most snarky comment I heard tossed around on the 16th, the 40th anniversary of Elvis shuffling off his mortal coil.
In a way that seemed to me to be more of a celebration of that event rather than a commemoration the TCM Channel ran 24 hours of nonstop Elvis movies. That is not an easy thing to deal with. I think looking up at the sun on acid while eating ghost peppers would be less difficult.
According to the IMDB (Internet Movie Data Base) Elvis made 31 movies, BUT the people at TV Guide say that he cranked out 34. How there can be that much of a discrepancy is beyond me. Of course, a lot of things are beyond me, i.e. MTV that doesn’t play any music.
When that happens the dogs howl, babies cry and milk goes bad on the “Best if used by…” date. And I usually end up with my neck in a wringer.
What triggered my lobes into action was a feeling, a nostalgia, perhaps. I got an email from a local theater group that is holding auditions for their next production. I have no interest in that particular play, but it hit a responsive chord in my heart.
A FEW DAYS AGO I got into a discussion with an acquaintance about what it is like doing a play in “The Round.”
Theater in the Round is where the stage and the actors are completely surrounded by the audience. There is no formal stage separation with the audience sitting “out there” beyond the footlights. Such an arrangement can create problems for both the performers and the audience members.
I TURNED ON THE TV THIS MORNING looking for some mild entertainment. I usually fire up the Tube as background noise while writing. My hope was for an old musical – you know, a Fred and Ginger type of film.
I didn’t find it.
Instead I was treated to a “Dirty Harry Marathon.” A bit different than I had hoped for, but…I felt lucky and it made my day. After all, a man’s got to know his limitations – at that time of day.
So – I started to work on a piece about the arrival of all the colorful birds in our backyard – Hummingbirds, Cardinals, Finches, and even the big Redtail Hawks. I thought that a Fred and Ginger musical would help me rhapsodize about the songs I could hear drifting from the trees. That was my plan anyway, but Dirty Harry and The Dead Pool took me in a different direction.
Instead of something idyllic and suitable for reading over a glass of wine it came out reading like something from the first draft of “The Birds.” In real life I doubt that two Finches could take down a Condor and pluck him bare – and I’m not really sure that the Woodpecker in our backyard was strapped. It was perhaps the strangest 1500 words I’ve ever written.
After about three hours I just gave up on the writing part and moved from my office/kitchen table and moved to the Rip van Winkle Memorial Chair in front of the Big Screen TV. It was now me and Inspector Callahan taking care of business. Popcorn – I needed popcorn.
A minute and a half later I was back in my chair with a hot bag of popcorn and a Diet Somethingorother.
“Did I fire six shots or only five?”
“It was six you big dummy. Harry, munch, munch, gulp, bluffed you.”
Most of those movies (I can’t call them “films.”) were shot in San Francisco while I was living there and I knew a few comedians who got small parts in one flick or the other. They played punks/thugs or ambulance drivers – not exactly roles that win Oscars. Some of them didn’t even get their name in the credits, but they did get paid which is, of course, the most important part.
I was never in any of them. My film career was limited to two “Independent films.” That means that nobody in their right mind was willing to finance the project so it was shot in pieces as they could scrape together some money. I agreed to be in the movies as a favor to the director, but only if I got paid in cash – no checks. My Momma didn’t raise no fools (a couple of whining neurotics perhaps, but no fools.).
I sat there for three more hours watching David Soul be a vigilante cop and Tyne Daly getmachine gunned on Alcatraz. Luckily, they both went on to star in their own Cop Shows (“Starsky and Hutch” and “Cagney and Lacey”).
One of these days I’ll try the Singing Bird thing again, only I’ll check the listings first to see what movies will be running. I won’t even try if they are going to be doing an Arnold Schwarzenegger Marathon. I’ll wait until I see a Busby Berkeley mob of Bleach Blonde Chorines hoofing it across the screen.
I’d even settle for an Abbott and Costello Festival. At least then I’d know who was on first.
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I LOVE OLD MOVIES. It doesn’t hamper my enjoyment if it is a film that is 20 years old, or 30, 50, or even older than me.
“Oh, it has sound. What fun!”
Last night, at an ungodly hour, I grabbed the remote and tuned into my 173rd viewing of “The Producers,” a gem of a movie from 1967 with Gene Wilder in his first major role and the completely insane Zero Mostel.
If you have never seen this movie, Shame on you! Go to your room!
WE ARE DOWN IN TEXAS FOR A SHORT VISIT. Not only is that a good thing in and of itself, but the weather is certainly better than up north – no snow and I’m actually going around clad in the season’s first outings for my Hawaiian shirts. I look like a tourist.
Another difference, whether we travel to Texas, Ireland, or wherever is local television. Local television outside of your major markets is where you can see careers beginning, careers flourishing, and careers ending – sometimes all within the span of a few days.
ON A QUIET MORNING LIKE THIS ONE WHEN IT’S JUST ME AND MY COFFEE I can feel the tensions of Life sloughing off like frost off the car’s rear window.
It is 16° degrees outside, but I don’t mind it right now because it keeps some people at home and away from me.
These days it seems like most people are screaming – at one another, at the government, at the world, at themselves. When things don’t go the way they like they start to scream thinking that will make things better – “Better” being the way they want things to be. It doesn’t work of course. It never has, it never will.
Terre Haute (That’s French for “99¢ Shrimp Cocktails!”) is seriously considering leaping into the 21st century!
The local Chamber of Commerce, a body with all of the power and influence of a grilled cheese sandwich, has expressed its support for the idea of having a casino open here. This is an idea that gets floated about every two years. So far that’s all it has ever done – floated – like a dead fish.
John Kraft is a writer living and working in Terre Haute, Indiana. He moved to the Midwest after 25 years in California where he worked as an actor, comedian, voice-over actor, as well as a writer. He now enjoys a saner pace of life with his wife, Dawn, who tries to keep him from embarrassing himself in public.
Perhaps I should explain the title of this blog: Down the Hall on Your Left.
My name is John. People are always asking where they can find "The John." My answer is: "Down the Hall on Your Left."